Burr Steers

Igby Goes Down

Interviewed by Jamie Russell

Nephew of Gore Vidal and Jackie Onassis, Burr Steers took acting jobs in "Pulp Fiction" and "The Last Days of Disco" before writing and directing his first feature, "Igby Goes Down" - set in the privileged world of New York's rich and shameless.

Did you see "Igby" as a "Catcher in the Rye" for the new century?

No. It's kind of got tagged with that by people. One of the reasons I guess is because there were a slew of movies that were hardcore homages to Holden Caulfield from JD Salinger's book [like "The Good Girl"]. This is set in the same milieu of prep schools, but Igby's journey - and I hate to use the word journey - is very different.

Does the comparison annoy you?

It p***** me off! No, it doesn't. Salinger is great. I read him as a kid and I think I must have been influenced by those things. It's like being in a band; you can't say you weren't influenced by The Beatles.

Did you have Kieran Culkin in mind for the lead from the start?

No. It's someone I still don't have in mind - you can tell him I said that! We saw every viable - and lots of non-viable - teenage actor and auditioned them. Just hundreds of kids. It was obvious that Kieran had great comedic timing. The question was whether he could pull off the emotional stuff. It was only through getting to know him and realising how deep he ran that I knew that I could beat it out of him. Which is what I proceeded to do!

It's a very 'East Coast' movie, isn't it?

It definitely did better in East Coast cities like New York and Boston than anywhere else. The East Coast is more similar to England in terms of sarcasm and tone and irony. It did well in LA, but it's more the heartland of America where they want things in a simpler, formulaic fashion. They're a literal group of people. I don't want to get political, but I feel no relation to that part of America. It's really depressing. I got sent to a military school, which was in Indiana, which is just so flat. It's a sea of polyester, aluminium sidings, and these phenomenally Caucasian people. It's spooky, that's the only way to describe it.

So was "Igby" a reaction against that?

It was something I wrote because I needed to. It was bubbling out of me. It was that feeling that they're trying to mould you into somebody they want you to be, and they're trying to stick you on this track that you'll have to stay on for the rest of your life. And so you have to break free, one way or another.